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SKETCH 



GEN. ROBERT MoALLISTER, 



Gen. JOHN WATTS DePEYSTER, 



REPRESENTATIVE MEN 



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(Thikd Edition,) 
A Biographical Work, 



PUBLISHED BY 









ATLANTIC PUBLISHING CO., 



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ROBERT MCALLISTER. 

By General John Waits de Peysteb. 




HEN the "Great Civil War" in England had terminated, 
indeed, with the restoration of Charles II., even the 
most bigoted opponents of the old Cromwellian army 
were compelled to admit that the best class of citizens, 
in every rank, position, and calling, was composed of the dis- 
banded, God-fearing constituents of that armj', with which 
the great Oliver had established the Commonwealth, subjected Eng- 
land, Scotland, and Ireland, and made his country's first popular 
government respected and feared, at home and abroad, by Pope, 
Kaiser, King, civilized or barbarian governments. In many re- 
spects the same remark would apply, and has been justly applied, to 
that wonderful armament which restored the integrity of these 
United States. But to none would it more justly apply than to the 
subject of this sketch, Brevet Major-General Bobert McAllister, by 
extraction a Pennsylvanian, but whose fame in reality belongs to 
New Jersey. He is remarkable as one of those stern religious " dis- 
ciples of duty," who are never found wanting when the firm resolu- 
tion and exceptional intrepidity, founded on religious conviction, are 
requisite; one of those characters whose impulses vibrate, not to the 
factitious appeals of glory, but to the ever reliable calls of duty ; and 
as such he is worthy to appear among the truly " representative men " 
of our country. To claim that he is a perfect character in the exag- 
gerated sense of the expression would be to arrogate for him some- 
thing more than human, but we do claim for him that he is a perfect 
type of the ideal Cromwellian officer. This is no more than justice 
and truth. One of his associate Brigadiers, of the same corps, in his 
" Three Years in the Army of the Potomac," has drawn a pen por- 
trait of him, which justifies all the preceding remarks; and when we 
consider that the historian was a Frenchman, endowed with constitu- 
tional peculiarities the most opposite to the man he depicts, it be- 
comes the more valuable, because it carries with it the assurance 
of its truthfulness. 



2 ROBERT MCALLISTER. 

McAllister, according to his companion in arms, presents a figure 
truly original. Ignoring the claims of family and business, he en- 
tered the service at an age which exempted him from any obligation 
to perform military duty. Without a single assumption of any of 
those peculiarities which by the vulgar are deemed inseparable from 
the bearing and hirsute physiognomy of a professional soldier ; his 
lace was completely shaven, and his honest features and 'hearing, 
everything about him presented an air of simplicity and modesty. 
His habits were those which the hastily judging world attribute to a 
recluse; but very far from this, they simply distinguished him as a man 
who has his passions under the control of reason and religion. Self- 
contained, his voice, which is calm and gentle, was never attuned to 
the diapason of an oath, or anything resembling one. Strictly a 
temperance man, his rigidity was for himself, his tolerance for others. 
His sole preaching was his example His staff enjoyed entire liberty 
to use in moderation the stimulants to which he never resorted. As 
exact in his religious practice, as sincere in his belief, he had the 
Protestant service regularly celebrated, every Sunday, at his head- 
quarters. The most agreeable attention that could be shown to him 
was to attend the exercises on that day, and be present at the sermon 
delivered by his chaplain. His habitual kindness for his soldiers 
never interfered with discipline. If his personal intervention was 
required in the infliction of punishment, he rarely failed to accom- 
pany it with an admonition, w r hose tenor and accent recalled to the 
culprit the sympathetic reproofs of his infancy and early boyhood. 
His soldiers looked up to him with affection as well as with obe- 
dience. The result was that when the storm of battle broke, this 
"father" led his children like the lioness her whelps. If McAllister 
was one of the most excellent of men, he was none the less the most 
vigorous of soldiers. 

Thus far de Trobriand on his character. Viewed from the stand- 
point of a professional soldier, McAllister was something higher, a 
soldier from the self-imposed necessity of self-sacrifice, a soldier who 
never forgot that he was fighting in the army of the Lord, a com- 
mander who looked on his subordinates as children for whose welfare 
he was responsible to God. Such men are rare. In this world they 
seldom attain distinction, in the sense of applause, from others. They 
are too unselfish. The world cannot understand unselfishness. It 
generally repays it with ridicule in ordinary life. It is only in great 
emergencies where selfishness saves itself at the expense of general 



ROBERT MCALLISTER. 3 

ruin that these modest God-fearing men come to the front, and by 
the simple performance of duty compel that respect from their de- 
tractors, which in the ordinary course of affairs would only be con- 
ceded by those who knew their real worth. 

Such a man pre-eminently is Robert McAllister, who might have 
lived and died unknown to lame, a quiet homely family man, had 
not a great emergency suddenly arisen, a country threatened by civil 
wai, made in the interest of human injustice, to establish a kingdom 
whose corner-stone should be the denial of rights of any sort to any 
man whose veins contained a drop of African blood. It is hard to 
conjecture the amount of human misery that would have followed, in 
all parts of the globe, had this scheme been crowned with success. 
There were many times in the course of the ensuing struggle when 
it seemed as if God had forgotten his people, and was about to aban- 
don the world to the dominion of injustice, but in the darkest hour 
the faith and courage of those few unselfish God-fearing men, of whom 
our hero is a living type, never failed, and they prayed on and fought 
on, till God's justice was vindicated, their prayers heard, their victory 
won. 

In the numerous letters of the subject of our sketch, written to 
his family during the war, and describing the events in which he 
took part, this element of faith and prayer, courage and humility, 
hand in hand, is everywhere evident. There is hardly a day in which 
he does not record that his prayers for mercy and help went up to 
the throne of Grace, coupled with confessions of his own short-com- 
ings. There is no record of personal prowess, no vaunting of his 
own perils. Of praise to others there is no stint. No man admires 
and respects the courage of others more highly, or mentions it more 
frequently. But after all the recital of a day's hard fighting, the 
plain old soldier never fails to own that he prayed heartily to God 
for help. He is not ashamed of his religion, but glories in it. With 
all this pride in being a soldier of Christ, there is not a particle of 
that sour vain-glory which is so apt to exist in the Puritan tempera- 
ment. There is no Phariseeism in McAllister; rather an excess of 
kindliness, overflowing in every word and deed, a very weakness of 
kindness, liable to be imposed on by every pitiful tale, true or untrue, 
that appeals to his sympathies. 

As we write, the portrait of the man himself looks at us from his 
kind eyes, the face of a man to whom little children would come in- 
stinctively, secure of a kind word and caress, to whom distressed 



4 ROBERT MCALLISTER. 

people would come for counsel, beggars for help; the face of a man 
often imposed upon and cheated, and yet always ready to give again, 
a man like the dead Horace Greeley in many respects, overflowing 
with human kindness, while devoid of the nervous excitability which 
brought Greeley to his grave. There is, withal, in that lace a look 
of strong, solid common sense which would preserve its owner from 
running into philanthropic excesses and crotchets, the expression of 
an executive man, able to make himself obeyed as well as loved in 
time of need. 

And this man became a soldier, one who held his own. and made 
himself respected by men his very opposite in character, one whose 
simple manly faith in God compelled the wild and reckless soldiers 
who surrounded him to recognize the real superiority of the courage 
of duty to the courage of careless deviltry ; of the courage that I 
fails to that which depends on health and strength, the applause of 
others, or desperation and disgusl with life; a courage — the latter 
kind — which varies with circumstances, while the other is always the 
same. 

Of the early life of .Robert McAllister we can present no better 
picture than he once gave to the writer himself! When a truthful 
man writes his own life, we learn more of his nature than any one 
else can tell us. To those words we turn, resuming the narrative 
where his purely military history begins, commending the simple 
recital to our readers for its concise statement of all essential facta 

"I was born on the 1st clay of June, in the year 1813. on the farm still owned by 
our family, situated in Lost Creek Valley, Juniata County. Pa., where my father 
before me was born, and the precise place on which my grandfather, Hugh McAllis- 
ter, built his first cabin in the wilderness, he being the second white man that set- 
tled in that valley, about the year 1760. 

" My grandfather, Hugh McAllister, was born in Lancaster County, Pa. His 
father came from the northern part of Ireland, about the year 1730. having emigrated 
thither from Scotland. My ancestors were strongly imbued with the principles of 
civil aud religious liberty, for which they were willing to fight even onto death. My 
grandfather and grandmother encountered all the dangers aud difficulties of a 
frontier life in the wilderness. They lived peaceably with the Indians when peace 
prevailed, and when war broke out these Indians warned them to leave, or they 
would be killed. My grandfather served between six and seven y ars in the Ameri- 
can army, at the time of the Revolution, and at the close of our great war for Inde- 
pendence had attained the rank of Major. Mj T father, Hon. William McAllister, 
was born on this farm, lived and died there. Out of a large family, six of us reached 
the years of maturity. My father's motto was, ' work or school. ' As I was to be a 
farmer, I did not receive a collegiate education ; only had the advantages of schools 
of the neighborhood. Whether we were at school or not, we generally spent our 
evenings in our study room, from which we learned much that we would not other- 



EOBERT MCALLISTER. 



wise have known. * * * * jjy brother Thompson and I spent a great deal of 
time together, studying military tactics, were always connected with military com- 
panies, and were both fond of drilling. Little did either of us then think that the 
time was coming when our swords would be drawn against each other, in a contest 
that threatened the destruction of our country and government. But such was the 
fact. 

" Before the war, I was promoted from a Lieutenant to a Captain, then to Lieut. 
Colonel, afterwards Colonel, then Brigadier-General, and had command of the Brady- 
Brigade, of the uniformed militia of Pennsylvania. 

"On the 9th day of November, 1841, I was married to Miss Ellen Jane Wilson, 
of Mercersburg, Pa., and resided on a part of the old homestead farm, where my 
two children were born, Sarah Elizabeth and Henrietta Graham. 

"In the year 1848, I commenced contracting and building railroads. When the 
rebellion broke out, I was in New Jersey, with a heavy contract, building a tunnel 
and its approaches through the Oxford Hills, at Oxford, Warren County, for the 
Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Bailroad Co. 

" This work was well advanced and was at this time profitable to us. When 
Fort Sumter was fired on, I said to my partner, ' One of us must go. We must help 
fight it out' He replied, 'You are the military man of this firm ; you go.' I re- 
plied, ' All right ; you see to my interests here, and I will go,' and off I went to the 
seat of war, or rather, raised a company at Oxford, went to Trenton, was commis- 
sioned by Governor Olden a Lieut. Colonel in the 1st New Jersey regiment, and 
started to Washington." 

Gen. McAllister's military career is in many respects a remarkable 
one. He was one of the very few men who went through the war 
from its inception to its close, being present at Bull Eun and at Ap- 
pomattox Court House respectively, without missing any of the 
pitched battles (except South Mountain and Antietam,) of the Army 
of the Potomac, to which he was attached from first to last. 

The sole exception to this general presence, throwing out Pope's 
Campaign, and the Maryland Campaign of September, 1862, was for 
ninety days after Gettysburg. Two wounds received at that battle, 
one in the left leg and the other in the right foot, sent him home a 
temporary cripple, whereby he missed the minor engagements during 
Meade's retreat in the fall of 1863, but before the Mine Eun cam" 
paign, he was back again in the held, the same reliable old soldier, 
put in wherever hard knocks were required to be given and taken. 

Indeed, before he had entirely recovered from his Gettysburg 
wounds, he returned to the army of the Potomac, then at Culpeppei 
Court House, and took command of the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 
3rd Corps. With it he advanced to Pony Mountain, on that re- 
connoisance which discovered that the enemy were moving eastward 
toward Centreville. Thereupon commenced Meade's retreat, which 



6 • ROBERT MCALLISTER. 

has often been styled " the Race," and is qualified by one of the 
permanent writers upon the war — in irony, perhaps — " a campaign 
of manoeuvres." 

At the battle of Bull Run he appears in the same character which 
he always preserved, steady, modest and fearless, and inspiring others 
by his example to do their duty with the same serenity as himself. 
He shall tell the story in his own words, while we incidentally remark 
that the old saying about "truth being stranger than fiction" was 
never better exemplified than in the discrepancy between the quiet, 
homely New Jersey colonel, and the brilliant war correspondent of 
the London Times in their respective accounts of a similar transac- 
tion. 

Lieut. Col. McAllister, commanding 1st New Jersey Volunteers, 
in a letter written at the time, says: 

"The whole scene beggars all description ; and yet, strange to say, our officers 
and men. raw as they were, remained cool and collected, and marched through these 
retreating columns with a firmness which astonished all who saw the regiments, 
and which has since been a theme of universal praise. • » * 

" A civilian, with a broad-rimmed hat, his fa? • pale as death, came riding down 
the road at a furious rate. I ordered him to halt. He, very much agitated and 
frightened, said, ' I am a civilian, and must pass on.' ' No, you can't pass,' said I ; 
' my orders are to stop everybody.' He then said, 'I am a bearer of dispatches to 
Washington, and it is imperative that I should go on.' 'You cannot pass until this 
panic is stopped ; every one who passes helps to increase the stampede,' was my 
answer. ' Here are my papers,— look at th^m,' at the same time pulling them out 
of his pocket. I replied, ' No time to examine papers now. Wait till we are through 
with this job and we will consider your case.' He again implored me in pitiful 
tones to let him through, whereupon I said, ' There is my commander ; go to him,' 
at the same time indicating Colonel Montgomery. He went to the Colonel, had 
some conversation with him, when Montgomery, disgusted with the man's coward- 
ice, raising himself in his saddle, called at the top ol his voice, ' Let that man go !' 
I did so, when the stranger put spurs to his horse, and made the very stones of the 
pike fly behind him. That man was no other than Russell, the correspondent of 
the London Times. 

"In contrast with this gallant Englishman, I saw a lady on my left, sitting in a 
buggy, amid the throng of soldiers, civilians, horses, mules, wagons, ambulances, 
right side up aud wrong side up, quite calm and unconcerned. The Colonel en- 
quired, ' Madam, are you not afraid ?' To which she replied, ' No, Colonel, I feel 
perfectly safe.' " 

We presume that the reader requires no particular comment on 
the above little narrative. It ought to have been printed as a note 
at the end of Mr. Russell's famous "Bull Run Letter." 

" 1 think General Montgomery, then Colonel Montgomery — writes 
Major-General, then Lieutenant-Colonel Robert McAllister — should 



ROBERT MCALLISTER. 



have the credit of stopping the stampede at Ball Ran. He started 
for the battle-field with two regiments as Brigade commander. One 
regiment left the field at Centreville, without orders, leaving the 1st 
New Jersey alone, as you are aware. The last conversation I had 
with the lamented General Kearny, he said that Montgomery never 
received the praise he deserved for what he had done on that occa- 
sion. Our firm stand there prevented the rebels following. 

" I held the conversation mentioned with Russell myself." 

The conduct of General McAllister demonstrates one fact, that 
there was plenty of the true military stuff in our army from the be- 
ginning of the war, if there had only been some one at the head who 
knew how to use it to advantage. There were plenty of regiments 
like his own, which, with a Desaix's inspiration to lead them, 
could have made the first Bull Run another Marengo. Even the 
ensuing night a Bernard of Lutzen, a Rohan of Rhinefelden, or even 
a Santa Anna of the Mexican War of Liberation, who had the com- 
mon sense to appreciate the effect of an attack from a body of fresh 
troops even on a victorious army whose nerve-forces had been ex- 
hausted in the achievement of their success, could have wrested 
victory from defeat. Joseph E. Johnston had the magnanimity to 
acknowledge that the presence and firm attitude of the Union reserve 
on the heights of Centreville restrained any attempt at pursuit Mc- 
Allister's regiment remained on the field all night, within cannon 
shot of the rebels, and only withdrew next morning when dawn re- 
vealed its unsupported condition. 

The 1st New Jersey had next the honor to head the audacious 
advance of Kearny's Brigade upon Manassas Junction, a few months 
later. Bid space permit, we would dwell upon the graphic account, 
by McAllister himself, of this movement, in which the single New 
Jersey Brigade, by a mingling of audacity and wariness not often 
paralleled, imposed upon a whole army of the enemy, and occupied'' 
a position some ten miles in advance of the Union forces, frightening 
the enemy to a precipitate retreat from his entrenchments at Manassas 
Junction, with the loss of a considerable quantity of camp equipage 
and seven flags. The 1st New Jersey, the last to leave the field at 
Centreville, in 1861, was the first to advance on the enemy, in 1862, 
and McAllister commanded it on both occasions. 

We must be content with a rapid summary of die three years 
that followed, our space being limited. During that time, McAllister 
was transferred from the 1st New Jersey to the Colonelcy of the 11th 



V : 



8 



ROBERT MCALLISTER. 



New Jersey, thence, as ranking Colonel to the command of tlie First 
Brigade, Second Division, Third Corps, to which bis regiment was 
attached. 

On the Peninsula it was not in the aggressive alone that McAllis- 
ter displayed his soldierly capacity ; it was amid the gloom of 
reverse that his pertinacity revealed the instinctive soldier. At 
Gaines' Mills, as Lieut. -Colonel commanding 1st New Jersey Vol- 
unteers, he made a splendid light for a regiment, and as such it was 
considered at the time. So it was throughout the Seven Days' Fight 
If there was flinching elsewhere, it was not in the ranks under bis 
orders. 

On the 30th of June, 1862, McAllister was commissioned Colonel 
of the 11th New Jersey Volunteers, and was attached to the 1st Bri"-- 
ade* 2d Division, 3d Corps. It is known that the 3d Corps was so 
fought to pieces in the Pope campaign, that the fall of 1862 witnessed 
an enforced resting spell for its recuperation, although it did good 
service in guarding all that was of importance in the direction in 
which Pope fought. 

The next time this brave officer was in action was at Fredericks- 
burg, 1st, and though the corps to which he belonged was not under 
severe fire, it occupied a very exposed position, better calculated to 
try the discipline of troops than another which the inexperienced 
might consider one more likely to put these qualities to the high' 
test. 

At Chancellorsville, how T ever, McAllister came out in all the 
steady light of those qualities which make him a " representative man." 
Never was a regiment more exposed than his own 11th New Jersey. 
At one time it was all alone in the midst of the enemy, so that it had 
to show double front, give and receive fire front and rear. So com- 
pletely was it isolated that it was given up for lost, and had to blast 
its way back through obstacles as desperate as those through which 
the mythical hero of Bulwer's " Coming Race" effected his return to 
the upper world. 

At Gettysburg, where McAllister was wounded in the left leg 
with a minie ball, and in the right foot with a fragment of a shell, it 

* This Brigade, originally Kearny's, was not the 1st New Jersey, which so distinguished 
itself and suffered so terribly at B*ull Run 2d ; which Stonewall Jackson said "was the finest 
body of troops he ever saw." Brigadier-Gen. George W. Taylor was mortally wounded, 27th 
August, 1862, .and died on the^ same day that General Kearny was killed, the 1st September 
following. Colonel McAllister at this time was with the 11th New Jersey, at Fort Marcy, 
ready to defend that point if the enemy approached us. A few days afterwards, he was assigned 
to the 1st Brigade, 2d Division, 3d Corps, and remained there, and advanced on Fredericksburg. 



V 






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KOBERT MCALLISTER. 9 

is almost sufficient to say of the division to which he belonged that 
it was fought and handled by Major-Gen. A. A. Humphreys, now 
chief of Engineers, U. S. A., to indicate the bloody work in which it 
took part. 

In the minor operations between the crowning battle in Pennsyl- 
vania and the Mine Run fiasco, McAllister was not engaged. Al- 
though slightly wounded on other occasions, and more or less affected 
by sickness, this was the only period of the war — ninety days — when 
he was not actively engaged at the front. At Locust Grove (as 
sometimes called), or Mine Run, his command made a good fight, 
having previously behaved very well at Jacob's Ford, on the Rappa- 
hannock, where he was the first man to land under the fire of the 
enemy ; also at the crossing at Kelly's Ford. 

In the Wilderness, secoud day, McAllister was wonderful. Here 
he had two horses shot under him. Had he been invested with some 
of the deceptive halo which seems requisite to attract the attention of 
an unreflecting populace he would have shared with others the 
applause accorded to what the French call chic, that outside lacquer 
which often conceals base metal, or that enamel which overlays a 
richer metal. 

At the Spotsylvania "death-angle" he acted the same heroic part 
as at Chancellorsville and the first Bull Run, and throughout the 
slaughter which again compelled the consolidation of the old 3d 
Corps, " as we understand it." In all the ensuing battles of summer and 
autumn, he continued to merit the admiration and highest praise not 
only of his superiors, of such men as the "superb" Hancock, of the 
consummate "pure gold" Humphreys, but also of inferiors, likewise 
of very many to whom the figure and not the individual was known. 
It required the desperate position of the Boydton Plank-Road to 
bring out McAllister in his true proportions and compel the universal 
acknowledgement of the sterling metal of the man and soldier. Cut 
off and surrounded by the best troops of the Confederacy, with a 
brigade to which 700 raw recruits had just been added, green sol- 
diers who had never fired a shot in action, he faced by the rear rank, 
made light shine through the encompassing enemy, and relieved and 
saved the division he was sent to support, Now it was that his light 
could no longer be kept under a bushel, and from this moment Mc- 
Allister's virtues received due acknowledgement, if not commensurate 
reward. In the picket line fight, 5th November, 1861; at Hatcher's 
Run, 5th February, 1865 ; and again at the Boydton Plank-Road, in 



10 ROBERT MCALLISTER. 

capturing the enemy's picket line and storming their works, 2d 
April, 1865, lie not only conquered the national enemies, but his own. 
These were all victories which compelled honor and praise, which 
were freely bestowed by all. McAllister shone in the times when a 
soldier is best developed. The dark hours of reverse and defeat 
were to him the crucibles which demonstrated the purity of his metal 
by the test of fire ; the dark hours when danger braved is but little 
known or appreciated, and gallantry displayed scarcely reo 
acknowledgment or record. It was in the gloomy days of Grant's 
campaign from the Rapid Anna, amid stifling heat, intense labor, un- 
derestimated privations, ceaseless lighting and constant exposure, that 
McAllister did the most, braved the most, suffered the most How 
much he suffered and exposed himself do general sketch can make a 
reader appreciate; generally with the responsibility of a Brigadier, 
sometimes owing to the melting away and consolidation of brigades 
as a regimental commander, as for instance just after Spotts.vlvania. 
and too often as neither one nor the other, with the responsibility ot 
both. When the writer recurs to this brave man's career, he cannot 
refrain from repeating to the reader the sad words wrung from the 
old soldier, by the remembrance of desperate service-without proper 
acknowledgment at the time when it might have availed. '-Often 
have I, then and there, led forlorn hopes. As you know, I never 
sent them, but I went with them, not to victory, but to certain 
defeat ! " 

Colonel McAllister was brevetted Brigadier-General for his glo- 
rious behavior at the first "Bull Pen," as the soldiers styled the 
tremendous fight on Boydton Plank-Road, 27th October, 186-1, and 
Major-General for meritorious conduct throughout the war. 

Two months from the date of the Appomattox surrender, he was 
home in New Jersey, and his own history closes with the simple 
statement, copied from a letter, and given in his own words : 

" Since the war, I have been engaged as General Manager of the 
fronton Railroad Company, in mining and shipping ore to the fur- 
naces in Lehigh Valley, and I reside here, in Allentown, Pa." 

The old Cromwellian spirit makes him now only remarkable for 
being a quiet, industrious, law-abiding citizen. God send us many 
such. 



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